S. Vasudeva Rao and his family swear by their two-year-old flowerhorn fish kept in their three-foot tank. The family still recalls how upset members were when the fish fell sick and was treated at a local clinic for a week.

Though their ‘pet’ recovered, Mr. Rao says his average monthly expense for upkeep of the fish has increased from Rs.200 to Rs.600 now.

“The medicines, food comprising a special diet and occasionally live fish, among others, are my major expense. It is a costly hobby but then the pleasure it brings to every member at home makes it worth it,” says the employee of R.R. Donnelley.

Fish keeping as a hobby may have been prevalent for decades but the kind of interest and time many individuals have started giving it is on the rise.

From being an element of décor, a well-kept aquarium is an ideal way to get rid of blues, say hobbyists. Many others say fish is a good pet as they are silent, easy to maintain and a delight to watch.

Chennai’s climatic conditions could be the other reason why the ornamental fish industry is an important market. Adding to the demand is the entry of exotic varieties from other countries and increased interest in Vaastu/Feng Shui fish, which has resulted in people going any extent for care and upkeep of a good aquarium.

V. Rajaraman calls himself a ‘fish health consultant’ who on an average treats around 20 patients (read fish) a day, especially during October and January. Owners of varieties such as flowerhorn and arowana are his major customers.

“When we started the clinic, we had doubts if we would get people. Luckily, there are many aquarists who are so passionate that they are ready to spend for the long life of the fish,” says Mr. Rajaraman of Raj Aqua Clinic, whose 10-day treatment varies between Rs.650 and Rs.1,500.

Some hobbyists, however, are against the concept of such centres coming up and think it is lack of adequate knowledge that is driving them for such paid services.

Indian Aquarium Hobbyist, for instance, through its online forum engages many like-minded people to answer queries on the art of maintaining a good aquarium. Similarly, S. Kishor Prabu, an employee of Ford, says he runs the fish hobbyist community on Orkut.

“We receive around 20 queries a week asking about maintaining a fish tank and other issues,” he says.

However, many agree that the aquarist industry is still at its primitive stage and largely unstructured.

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